Senators Kay Hagan (NC) and Debbie Stabenow (MI), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack yesterday, urging him to approve disaster assistance for small pork producers affected by PEDv. Analysts estimate the deadly virus has killed more than four million pigs nationwide since April 2013, which could have a significant impact on the agricultural economy. The 2014 Farm Bill, signed into law last month, permanently extends critical livestock disaster assistance programs that could help producers in North Carolina, Michigan and 24 other states cope with the virus and manage the spread of the disease.

“Pork producers that have been impacted by PEDv face economic devastation, these producers are finally experiencing periods of higher margins after prolonged periods of razor thin profits. If this disease persists, pork herds will continue to diminish and producers risk going out of business,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Secretary Vilsack.

The Senators also asked the USDA to increase research for a vaccine and other interventions to address PEDv, for which no vaccine or treatment currently exists.

The Senators noted that unmitigated spread of PEDv poses a serious threat to the agricultural economy, as the pork industry supports nearly 550,000 jobs across the country and contributes $34.5 billion to the U.S. economy. The virus has existed in Europe and Asia for several years, but hasn’t had the same critical impact in those areas. The disease was identified in the United States last May, and the harsh winter has led to its continuous spread.

Read the Senators’ letter here.